Squad splits in three to play nationwide

By Nithin Reddy, Contributing Writer

During the Illinois men’s tennis team’s first action-packed weekend of the year, the Illini split their squad into three tournaments: the Milwaukee Tennis Classic, the Oracle ITA Masters in Malibu, CA, and the Ivy Plus Invitational at Princeton University. 

In the three tournaments, the Illini dealt with early season rust, failing to reach the finals in any of them, and head coach Brad Dancer noticed.

“This weekend, at least with my group of guys in Milwaukee, was not a particularly strong showing,” Dancer said. “We need to figure out what we can do in order to be better prepared and have better results.  We have high standards for our program.”

Although Dancer may not have expected the overall results, two players stood out: sophomore Alex Brown and freshman Keenan Mayo.

Mayo is a 6-foot-6 freshman from Long Beach, California, with a lot of potential. He started off his weekend in Milwaukee with three straight victories before advancing to the quarterfinals, where he faced Notre Dame’s William Howells. In a back-and-forth first set, Mayo won in a tiebreaker off his serve. The second set was close again, but with two breaks, Mayo finished off Howells 7-6, 7-5 to advance to the semifinals.

In Mayo’s semifinal match, he faced Patrick Kaukovalta from the University of Alabama. The first set was fairly equal, but after Kaukovalta’s second break he took control of the first game. Unfortunately for Mayo, things didn’t get any better in the second set.  With three double faults, Mayo was only able to walk away with two victories. Kaukovalta advanced with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Mayo.

Mayo said there were a lot of things that went wrong. 

“Fatigue, mental fatigue, but I don’t think consistency was an issue,” Mayo said. “I just think today wasn’t my day.”

The other player to watch this weekend was Alex Brown, who played in the Ivy Plus Invitational. The 6-foot-5 sophomore had a successful freshman campaign.  In singles play he went 23-11 overall and 8-1 in Big Ten play; and in doubles, Brown was 25-15 overall and 6-5 in Big Ten Play. 

Although he struggled in doubles play, losing alongside his sophomore teammate Caleb Chakravarthi 8-3, he played confidently in singles.

Brown started the tournament by beating Harvard’s Brian Shi, 7-5, 6-3, to advance to the quarterfinals.  In his next match, Brown faced Mazen Osama, from the University of Alabama, whom he defeated 7-5, 6-4.  Brown’s luck would run out in the semifinals where Columbia’s Jack Lin took the victory in two sets, 6-4, 6-4. 

But in order to improve, Brown knew he needed to play a more steady game.

“I need to play more consistent,” Brown said. “I can play really well for a few games, then struggle for a few after.” 

A handful of other players competed as well for the Illini this weekend.  The duo of sophomore Gui Gomes and junior Noe Khlif advanced to the quarterfinals of the Milwaukee Tennis Classic, and Fletcher Scott lost in the round of 32.

At the Oracle ITA Masters, Zeke Clark made it to the round of 16 and Aleks Kovacevic went onto the quarterfinals. In the Ivy Plus Invitational, junior Vuk Budic reached the quarterfinals.

The Illini are slated to play in the ITA All-American Championships starting on Saturday.

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